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Although it concentrates on only one aspect of artist David Hockney's work, Livingstone and Heymer's "Hockney's Portraits and People" contains a surprising amount of variety. There are 246 illustrations in total, and 233 of these are in colour. Some of the works are well known, but there are others published here for the first time. There are those that portray the famous, such as W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood and Andy Warhol, as well as Celia Birtwell and Henry Geldzahler, both great friends of Hockney. Portraits of family members and lovers also constitute a large part of the works reproduced in the book, and there is a number of self-portraits.
Hockney began making portraits and self-portraits when he was sixteen, and feels that "Faces are the most interesting things we see." "Hockney's Portraits and People" consists of five chapters that focus on self-portraits, family portraits, lovers and friends (two chapters) and finally his work made with the use of a camera lucida. The book concludes with a list of sources of quotations, further reading material, a list of illustrations and an index.
Although the book consists solely of portraits and figure work, it covers several decades, showing how Hockney's style developed, and includes paintings, drawings, prints and photographic collages. Hockney's portraits of artists Richard Hamilton (1971) and Ron Kitaj (1975) are delicate line drawings that skilfully portray the sitters with the minimum of detail. Two pages further on, we see Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972), an acrylic on canvas where the main figure sports a bright red jacket against a verdant hilly landscape. The contrast could not be sharper.
Hockney's portraits of his mother are perhaps the works that made the greatest impression on me. Sometimes we see her gentle smile as she sits in an armchair; at others she gazes intently at us. The most touching one for me is a photograph of her at the ruins of Bolton Abbey. She is wearing a raincoat with the hood up and her hands sunk into her pocket. She is looking down and a little to one side and seems very much alone, although the tips of a pair of shoes are just visible at the bottom of the photo.
Celia Birtwell, textile designer a life-long friend of Hockney, pops up delightfully throughout "Hockney's Portraits and People." Again, it might be a sensitive line drawing or a more colourful pastel drawing or painting. Like his mother, she often has a gentle smile and a light in her eyes.
It is interesting to see some of the influences on Hockney, particularly in the final chapter entitled "Through the Lens and Beyond." Here, Livingstone shows how Hockney was influenced by the nineteenth-century painter Ingres after seeing an exhibition of his portraits at the National Gallery in London. He was consequently driven to experiment using a camera lucida to produce fine line drawings. Four of Ingres' portraits are reproduced opposite four of Hockney's from 1999 to 2000, and the similarities are striking.
It is perhaps necessary to point out that Hockney is homosexual and the chapters on lovers and friends feature quite a few full frontal male nudes. Normally this should be acceptable in fine art, but some people may find these pictures offensive. They feature prominently in the third and fourth chapters.
The text by Marco Livingstone and Kay Heymer is authoritative while still being very readable. In addition to the main text, some of the illustrations are accompanied by a paragraph-long caption giving detailed information. It is of course possible to get a huge amount of enjoyment from such a book purely from the illustrations themselves, but I would recommend at least reading the captions which give a fascinating insight into some of the individual works of art.
An exhibition of Hockney's landscape paintings opens at the Royal Academy in January, so there is likely to be a great deal of interest in his work. For anyone unfamiliar with Hockney's oeuvre who is inspired by that show, "Hockney's Portraits and People" will provide a fascinating insight into another area of his work. It is a superb book for anyone interested in the major figures of twentieth-century art, and particularly for those interested in figurative painting and drawing. A hefty tome, but one that will provide hours of delight for lovers of modern art.
Marco Livingstone is an art historian and independent curator. He has written the preface to "Hockney's Portraits and People" as well as the text for the chapters on self-portraits, lovers and friends from 1960 to 1977, and the final chapter "Through the Lens and Beyond."
Kay Heymer has written the introduction to "Hockney's Portraits and People," and also the text to the chapters on family and lovers and friends from 1977 to 1998. Like Livingstone, Heymer is an art historian and curator, and he organised an exhibition of Hockney's work in Bonn in 2001.
Hockney's Portraits and People
Marco Livingstone and Kay Heymer
Hardcover, 240 pages
Thames & Hudson, 2003
Price £29.95 (Amazon £19.38)